Graduates: Here’s How You Can Pay Off Those Student Loans and Live Debt Free!

By Joshua Charles Published on June 3, 2018

I recently turned 30, and I managed to pay off all my debt. I haven’t had credit card debt for years, but I did have a car payment (which I paid off more than two years early), and student loans.

I am now 100% debt free, and it feels good.

But I didn’t accomplish this on accident. I was surrounded by wise people, and implemented time-tested wisdom to make it happen.

Many Millennials are stressed out about finances. This is completely understandable, especially given the extent to which many are burdened by student loans. I know what this feels like.

But I also know that most people are simply not wise with their money. Multiple surveys have shown that most Americans save very little, or nothing at all, despite low unemployment, increasing wages, and a more educated populace than we’ve ever had. While this can sometimes be due to circumstances, those circumstances are often temporary. The root of the problem often has more to do with values, and a lack of financial wisdom.

When it comes to finances, having the guidance of not just mentors, but financially savvy mentors, is key.

As a teenager, I was taught almost nothing about money. So I know what starting at ground zero is like. But the reality is that there have never been more resources available to understand money, debt, interest rates, and all the things you need to be aware of to be financially sound. Educating myself, adjusting my lifestyle, and welcome the advice of those wiser than myself is what allowed me to be debt-free by 30.

Here’s how I did it.

1. Financially Savvy Mentors

Most people don’t have mentors of any kind, let alone financial mentors. But I believe mentors are among the most precious assets anyone can have in the quest for a well-lived life. When it comes to finances, having the guidance of not just mentors, but financially savvy mentors, is key. That doesn’t mean they have to be “rich” (whatever that means). But it does mean they should know how money works, they aren’t perpetually in unsustainable debt, and they steward their income well.

Having mentors who can teach us the financial principles that have made them successful is absolutely crucial. And the truth is that there are many successful people who would be absolutely thrilled to share their wisdom — if only they were asked.

One mentor taught me a principle that has paid immense dividends: “Live below your means.”

I would have never learned, or what I’ve learned would’ve taken much longer to learn, if I didn’t have financially savvy mentors. I didn’t wait for them to come to me. I found, and approached them. I lived in a lower/middle middle class family. I knew what constantly living at the financial edge was like, and I knew I did not want to live that way.

2. Live Below Your Means

One mentor taught me a principle that has paid immense dividends: “Live below your means.” This particular mentor has been incredibly successful after a decades-long career.

Years ago, he told me a story about the purchase of his and his wife’s current home. It is a very nice house, but it is not as nice, or as big, as they can afford.

But just before they purchased it years ago, their bank called. “You know, you guys can afford a lot more, and we could get you in a way bigger house, no problem!” But this mentor and his wife declined. They knew that financial freedom came not from living at your means, but below your means. Living at the edge, after all, leaves little margin for the trials and tribulations of life, let alone savings and investment. Plus, they preferred traveling the world and giving to charities and other organizations they cared about. They didn’t need a house that was bigger than what they needed. They didn’t need to prove anything to anybody. And now, here they are: their house has been paid off, and they have more financial freedom than ever. And yes, they’ve traveled the world, and generously donated to many fine organizations — because, even when they had barely anything as a newlywed couple, they lived below their means.

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Applying this principle to my own life has been revolutionary. Like most people, my income has grown as I’ve gotten older. But my lifestyle isn’t all that different. I enjoy simple things. I can afford more, but I decided, and continue to decide, to live below my means in order to enjoy the things I love most — things like giving and traveling, as well as saving and investing. I was even able to travel to all the continents (except Antarctica) in my 20’s because, day-to-day, I lived below my means.

I’m reminded of the wise words of the Greek sage, Horace: “He will be enslaved forever who does not know the usefulness of a little.” That is the core of what living below your means, means.

3. Side Hustles

But my income didn’t increase just because I sat around and waited for things to come to me. I did the opposite. I developed my gifts, and even made myself an expert in multiple subjects I knew almost nothing about at age 20. I found ways to turn what I love into goods and services other people would be willing to pay me for. My “day job” for most of my 20’s was a dream job, and I loved it. But I also developed multiple “side hustles.” They didn’t always bring in a ton, but whatever they did bring in, I used almost all of it to pay down debt — principal, not just minimum payments. Now, finding new and innovative ways to earn money by putting my gifts in the service of others has become a way of life. Except now everything is in the black.

4. Giving

Finally, I cannot emphasize enough how important a generous attitude is to paying down debt, and financial management in general. Benjamin Franklin put it well in Poor Richard’s Almanac: “He does not possess his wealth; it possesses him.” Similarly: “If your Riches are yours, why don’t you take them with you to t’other World?”

A commitment to generosity provided me that tangible reminder that “my” money wasn’t mine, but God’s.

Franklin’s point is that wealth is not ours to hoard, but to steward. Christians, of all people, should know this. Our money is not ours. It is God’s, and He expects us to be wise stewards of our money as much as He expects us to be wise stewards of everything else He gives us.

Giving generously is one of the primary ways to remember this. As a Christian aware of how much grace God had given me, I knew I had to give back. Therefore, with the examples and advice of mentors before my eyes and in my ears, I made a commitment to living a generous life. For example, whenever I hear of a need, I almost always give — even when it would hurt.

This was an immensely liberating decision. Now pursuing clients, gigs, and side hustles was about serving — not about dollar signs in my eyes because I had to pay bills. A commitment to generosity provided me that tangible reminder that “my” money wasn’t mine, but God’s. As Cicero observed, “Not for ourselves, not for ourselves alone were we born.”


So that’s how I ended up debt-free by the age of 30.

Mathematically speaking, wisely managing money is nothing more than properly balancing income and outgo.

But beneath all the practical advice about savings accounts, investing, etc. there are deeper principles that lead to long term success.

Financially savvy mentors, living below your means, side hustles, and maintaining a generous heart are about as good a place to start as any.

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